The federal Office of Child Support Enforcement has recently published its Annual Report to Congress for FY 2015. The number of children and parents served by child support agencies nationwide has continued to steadily decline over the past five years.1 This is despite the number of children in the USA remaining relatively stable during the same years. This decline in the number of cases is especially sharp, down more than 11%, among children who have ever received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash benefits. This may be due to a couple factors: (1) the historic and ongoing declines in the number of children receiving TANF from the States where they live; and (2) an increasing reluctance from custodial parents with low incomes, particularly women of color, to involve themselves in both TANF and the formal child support enforcement system when their child’s other parent, usually the father, has no ability to pay court-ordered child support.
The new report also reveals that fully 24% of all child support debt, amounting to more than $27 billion, can be retained by the government to reimburse TANF benefits that children have received.2 In 2015, nearly $1.3 billion of parent’s child support payments were actually retained by the federal and State governments to reimburse TANF and foster-care benefits that children received.3 Because the large majority of child support debt is owed by parents with no or low reported income, it is likely that a large majority of this $1.3 billion paid represents money retained from parents of color with low incomes—and includes contributions from their adult children, family members and communities, as documented in CFFPP’s recent studies.